Thoughts from The Imitation of Christ
By Thomas a' Kempis *
Jesus told His disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25) That seems like a hard saying, and many are unwilling to hear it. But be certain of this, it will be much harder to hear His words in the final judgment, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire." (Matthew 25:41) Those who hear the word of the Cross now and follow it, shall not fear hearing the words of eternal damnation. The coming of the Lord for Judgment will happen after our days of suffering and death upon the earth. And the sign of the Cross will be seen by all in the heavens. Then all servants of the Cross, those who have conformed their lives in accordance with the Crucified, shall boldly draw near to Christ, the Judge, to hear the words of eternal blessing, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into eternal joy." (Matthew 25:21)
The question is: Why are there so many who fear to take up the cross, which leads to the heavenly kingdom? For those in Christ who hear the word of the Cross and follow it, there is health, life, protection from enemies, heavenly sweetness, strength of mind, joy of spirit, the height of virtue, and perfection of holiness. In fact, there is no health of one's soul, no hope of eternal life, accept in the Cross of Christ. So, why not deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus? He gave everything for us. He went before us, bearing his cross, and died for us upon the cross, that we might also bear our cross and willingly be crucified with Him upon it. For if we are dead with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we partake of His suffering in this world, we shall also partake of His eternal glory in heaven.
Everything depends upon the cross and dying to ourselves. There's no other way to life and true inward peace, except the daily dying to ourselves and the taking up of our cross. We can go where we want, seek whatever we want, and we shall find no higher way above, nor safer way below, than the way of the Cross. Order our lives according to our own will and judgment, and we shall always find suffering, either willingly or unwillingly. So shall we always find our cross. For we shall either feel the pain of body, or the tribulation of spirit within our soul.
Sometimes we will feel forsaken by God, sometimes we will be tried by our neighbor, and more than that, sometimes we will be wearisome to ourselves. And still we can't be delivered or eased by any remedy of consolation, but must bear it as long as God wills. For God will have us learn to suffer without consolation and submit ourselves fully to our suffering, so we'll be made more humble. No one understands fully the passion of Christ and the suffering He had on the way to the Cross, but as we bear our cross we can begin to know in our heart something of His suffering for us within ourselves. So, the cross is always ready and everywhere waits for us. We cannot flee from it. Wherever we hurry to get away, wherever we end up, we always take ourselves with us. Turn above, turn below, turn without, turn within, and in them all we shall find the cross. The need is for patience everywhere, if we will have inward peace and finally gain the everlasting crown.
If we willingly bear our cross, it will bear us and will bring us to the end of this life's suffering with Jesus. If we bear it unwillingly, we make a burden for ourselves and greatly increase the load, yet we must bear it. If we cast away our cross, we shall find another, maybe a heavier one.
* Of the Royal Way of the Holy Cross (Book 2, Number 12, Sections 1-5)